Typography Spotlight: Nick Misani

ADC Young Guns 12 winner searches for an authentic style.

February is winding down, as is  ADC and Monotype’s Typography Month — but don’t worry, we still have more than a few inspiring entries to share!

Just like last year’s Photography Month and Illustration Month, Typography Spotlight, highlighting ADC Members and Young Guns who love working with words and letters. Some of the names are already famous within the design community, while others will be new for you to discover, but all of them are card-carrying ADC Members from around the world.

Our latest Typography Spotlight is a New York based ADC Young Guns 12 winner who dives into history for reference.


MisaniADC_headshotNICK MISANI

New York, NY, USA



Where did your interest in typography begin? It’s generally not something kids in kindergarten aspire to be. When did you discover that you could actually make a living out of it?

Though I can’t necessarily trace my interest in typography back to kindergarten, I recall always being enchanted by ornamental forms (curly borders, oversized cursive drop caps and the like) from a really young age, and fascinated by the value that ornament and design imbue on ordinary objects. My interest in formal typography, however, began with a love of calligraphy I developed in middle school. Coming from a family of jewelry designers, I knew the possibility of making a living in a creative field was never far-fetched, so after experimenting a little with graphic design in college, I decided to pursue it professionally.

How much of your ability is self-taught versus through schooling?

I’ve acquired the bulk of my formal and practical knowledge by working in the field and being open to the occasionally painful, but always valuable feedback of the art directors, creative directors, and designers for whom—and with whom—I’ve had the pleasure of working. Graduate school enabled me to think more holistically and critically both about the design practice and the daily practicing of design, and taught me not compromise concept for the sake of form (and vice versa). Finally, like most, my technical knowledge of software is self taught.

How would you best describe your style? How did you foster that style? Do you tend to lean towards one type of lettering?

I am in constant search of a style that feels authentic, based in history — but without being derivative—and most importantly, honest. I can’t say I’ve found that yet, but ask me that question again in a decade or two, when I’ve had a chance to look back on a larger body of work, and I might be able to give you an answer (or defer the question for another twenty years). For now, I most enjoy creating detailed work that strongly references art and design history. There is endless inspiration in the past, matched with equally endless combinational potential with the themes and aesthetics of the present.

Walk us through your usual type design process.

After immersing myself in historical references, I sketch on paper. Depending on how clear of a direction I have, I either move to the computer with nothing more than a loose sketch or continue tracing and re-tracing on vellum honing an idea until a direction emerges. Almost every project, even those rendered in an analog medium like silkscreen or paint, goes through a digital phase, where it gets polished and refined.

“Letters are extremely commonplace, so the letterer has the fascinating challenge of creating something new, exciting, and beautiful by rhapsodizing on everyday forms.”

What is your favorite ‘practical’ font, one for everyday use?

My relationship with practical fonts is somewhat co-dependent: I go to them because I need them and not necessarily because I love them. That said, both Mr and Mrs Eaves do a lot of the heavy lifting in my design work these days, but I also love Johnston with its slightly retro feel and cute diamond-shaped dots.

Do you have a favorite letter of the alphabet when it comes to experimenting with design?

I love A’s for their symmetry and stateliness, R’s for their flair, N’s for their apparent neutrality (don’t be fooled though, they are easily coaxed out of it when referencing a particular historical style) , S’s because I love a challenge, and Q’s for their seductive potential—for success and failure alike. Ks, however, never look quite right when I draw them.

Who wins in a fight: serif or sans serif?

Scripts! But seriously, must they fight?

The obvious difference between an illustrator and a letterer or typographer is that the latter works mainly with words and letters. Name a not-so-obvious difference between the artforms, one that certainly applies to you.

I’ve always been fascinated by art created with humble means and utilitarian materials. Letters are extremely commonplace, so the letterer has the fascinating challenge of creating something new, exciting, and beautiful by rhapsodizing on everyday forms. In addition, a succession of letterforms cannot be separated from its meaning as a word, so unlike illustrators, who can use their artistry to hide or reveal meaning, we have to contend with an immediate read, which we can choose to embrace or eschew, but which will always be a part of the finished piece.

What other artistic passions do you have? Where else do you find inspiration?

I studied music in college, so I often return to it when I’m feeling creatively drained. Music is also a big part of my creative process when I comes to design: I love the immersive experience of listening to pieces composed during the historical period I am exploring in my work.

Which professionals do you look up to the most in the typography/lettering world?

I generally prefer looking to people who are no longer living for inspiration, but among those who are alive and well, I would have to say my biggest influence is the work of my current boss, Louise Fili. Her mentorship and knowledge have already proven invaluable in the short time I’ve had under her guidance. Otherwise, I love the work of my colleague Kelly Thorn, with all its effortless grace, and that of her exceedingly talented boyfriend Spencer Charles. There are so many incredibly gifted letterers and type designers out there, I could really spend all day looking at and lusting over their work, so I try to pry myself away to focus on my own endeavors.

What is the most challenging thing about your career?

Aside from the shared struggles of finding inspiration and nurturing creativity, I feel the most challenging part of my career is balancing the desire to stay relevant within the design community — and engaging in the professional dialogue —with the insecurities and inevitable comparison that are a result of engaging in social media. I sometimes find myself grappling with this mostly self-imposed pressure to constantly promote myself online.

At the end of the day, what do you love most about being a typographer or letterer?

I love the attention to detail and subtlety that are necessary when working with letterforms.